The energy we need for our everyday life comes from the food we eat, or more precisely, from the carbohydrates we consume. Once inside our body, these carbs get converted into glucose – the fuel required by our body cells.
The human body has an elaborate system to keep the concentration of glucose (also known as blood sugar) in check. Any defect in this system can cause massive problems for all the organs of the body. The most common cause of the body being unable to control the level of glucose is a disease called diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic condition with no known cure. All that can be done is regulate the level of sugar in the blood to minimize harmful effects on the body. One of the ways to do that is by adopting a ketogenic diet. Today, we’ll learn what this diet is and how it can help in managing diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
When we eat something, it is broken down by our digestive system into chemicals that can be absorbed into the blood. The carbohydrates which are present in almost everything we eat are converted to glucose.
When the level of glucose in the blood rises, the beta cells in the pancreas release a hormone called insulin. Insulin causes body cells to absorb glucose and store it as starch, which can be metabolized when the body needs energy.
Diabetes can be caused by two reasons:
- The body’s autoimmune response kills the beta cells of the pancreas, resulting in insufficient to no insulin production. This condition is called type 1 diabetes. People who suffer from this condition have to take shots of insulin on a daily basis.
- The cells of the body can develop resistance to insulin. As a result, the beta cells have to produce more insulin. With the passage of time, the beta cells give up. This type of diabetes, known as type 2, can be managed with medication and diet.
Now that we have a basic understanding of diabetes, let’s see what a ketogenic diet is.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet typically limits the amount of carbohydrates to the minimum possible level and allows for the most fat intake than any other type of diet. The aim of such a diet is to create a metabolic state called ketosis. In this state, fats rather than carbohydrates, are used to fuel the metabolic needs of the body.
This diet plan was invented in the 1920s as a treatment for children with epilepsy. Over the decades, it has been used to treat a number of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, obesity, and diabetes.
Although the actual ketogenic diet plan is made specifically for the patient, here is a generalized formula that can be followed:
- 60 to 70 percent of the body’s calorie requirement must be fulfilled from fats.
- 20 to 30 percent must be obtained from protein.
- Only 5 to 10 percent of the calories must be from carbohydrates.
Since it is carbohydrates that are broken down to make glucose, reducing their intake should decrease blood glucose levels (and the severity of the condition).
While it is a good approach in theory, let’s see what the real-life results of this approach to managing diabetes are.
Efficacy of Ketogenic Diet in Managing Diabetes Type 2
If you ask doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals about the effects of a ketogenic diet on diabetes, you’ll get a wide range of answers. The same will be the case if you ask patients who have tried a ketogenic diet as a treatment for their diabetes.
There is much research to help and guide us on this topic. According to the real-world data gathered and analyzed by crowdsourcing AI-powered platform StuffThatWorks.health, out of all diabetic patients who tried a ketogenic diet, it worked:
- Extremely well for 13% of the people.
- Very well in 47% of the cases.
- Fairly well for 22% of the participants.
In another study conducted by Mckenzie A.L., Hallberg S.J., and Creighton B.C., published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, 262 people with diabetes were able to eliminate at least one of their diabetes medications after following a ketogenic diet.
The research participants also had lower hemoglobin A1C test results, and a 20% reduction in triglycerides (a form of sugars that can indicate the deterioration of cardiac muscle). The diet these people followed consisted of 3-5 servings of vegetables, a moderate amount of protein, and unrestricted high-quality fats.
Another notable study was carried out by Bueno N., De Melo I., and De Oliveira S. They performed a meta-analysis of thirteen studies and determined that people with a very low-carb ketogenic diet (50 grams or fewer carbs a day) showed uniform blood sugar levels and had lower blood pressure than diabetics with a high-carb diet. This study also found that the ketogenic diet increased the levels of both HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood. A ketogenic diet was shown to bring more health benefits to your body.
Another meta-analysis by Meng Y., Bai H., and Wang S. determined that a ketogenic diet can decrease the concentration of triglycerides in the blood of diabetics. This study, however, said nothing conclusively about cholesterol levels.
All the research data seems pretty promising for diabetics, but there are other things that need to be considered before a diabetic person shifts to a ketogenic diet. One of them is understanding the difference between ketosis and ketoacidosis.
Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis
Before considering a ketogenic diet as a probable treatment for diabetes, it is important to understand the difference between ketosis and ketoacidosis.
- Ketosis, the intended result of a ketogenic diet, is a state where the body uses fats to fuel metabolism. In this process, ketones are produced in the liver when the body has too little glucose to fuel metabolism.
- Ketoacidosis is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. This happens when there are too many ketones in the blood and no insulin. This can decrease the pH of the blood, and as the body works on a very strict balance of blood pH, any change in it can cause the organs to shut down or become permanently damaged.
If ketoacidosis happens to a diabetic person, it is called diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA. If the patient has too little insulin or is highly resistant to insulin, DKA can be extremely dangerous.
In order to follow a ketogenic diet with safety, it is important to keep all parameters of your body in check and get a diet plan devised by a dietician. You also need to get the diet plan updated from time to time, for it to work properly.
In conclusion, a ketogenic diet can be helpful in managing diabetes. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for it. Every individual is different and needs a different ketogenic diet plan to get the maximum benefit. The best way is to work with a professional, keep track of your body’s response to the diet you are using, and find out what works the best for you.